2017 Fiat 124 Spider: Another take on 2-seat, top down fun [First Look]

2017 Fiat 124 Spider (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

I can't help it. Whenever I think of the Fiat 124 Spider, the first thing that pops into my head is the little Italian man in the leopard print bathrobe from the Fiat "Blue Pill" commercials.

It's that moment after he's lost the pill and he's consoling himself with a spirited ride in the 124 Spider. More specifically, it's the instant he discovers that he didn't need the blue pill after all.

And yeah, driving the all-new 124 Spider is something to get excited about.

In addition to having a base price around $26K, you've got a sporty suspension, space to fit a golf bag in the trunk and some very comfortable seats. And then there's the Abarth model.

I remember when the 124 Spider was revealed at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It spawned an immediate hashtag of #Fiata because the vehicle is, quite obviously, built in concert with the Mazda MX-5 Miata.

That's why I appreciated at the press preview that Bob Broderdorf, director of Fiat Brand North America, immediately addressed what we all wanted to know: What exactly is the difference between the 124 Spider and MX-5 Miata?

As it turns out, quite a bit.

For starters, the Fiat 124 Spider is 5 inches longer and weighs about 100 pounds more. Thus, every piece of exterior sheet metal is different. The interior also has different surface materials on the seats, dash and door panels. I could tell a difference immediately with the soft and supple leather seats.

The Spider also has a completely different powertrain. It boasts a 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine that delivers 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. That's in contrast to the MX-5's 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine that delivers 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque.

Suspension and steering are also tuned to be a bit sportier.

So, can you tell a difference in how it drives?


The acceleration is quicker off the start, and the steering was more responsive than the MX-5. Plus, the faster the car goes, the better it handles.

We had a fair stretch of twisty roads, and the 124 Spider held its ground, making the 2-hour trek to lunch more fun than work.

But as much as there are differences, there are also similarities, primarily with the interior. If you were just looking at the interior of the 124 Spider and the MX-5, you'd be hard pressed to see too many differences. They both have oddly located cup holders, and all the dials and controls are positioned similarly in both cars. They also have the exact same Mazda infotainment system, and both vehicles are built in Hiroshima, Japan.

But only the 124 Spider has the Abarth.

This model has the same 1.4-liter engine, but adds 4 horsepower. It also features a sport suspension, sport mode selector and sport-tuned quad exhaust.

My time behind the wheel of the Abarth was limited to an autocross. But it was enough time to learn that it hugs the curves even better than the other models and that quad exhaust sounds delicious.

Broderdorf skirted the question of whether the 124 Spider would get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and it was also unclear whether the new Fiat would eventually adopt the Fiat Chrysler Uconnect system.

Fiat keeps the model breakdown fairly simple, and pricing for all trims bases under $30K - which is not true for the MX-5.

  • Classica: This base model with cloth seating surfaces is more about the driving experience than anything else. It comes standard with push-button start, Bluetooth phone pairing and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Base price is $24,995.
  • Lusso: This is, appropriately, the luxury trim (lusso means luxury in Italian). It adds more premium characteristics including auto headlamps, 17-inch wheels, backup camera, chrome exhaust, heated leather seats and the 7-inch infotainment screen. Base price is $27,495.
  • Abarth: This model means business. It's the most aggressive model in the lineup adding a sport mode selector, Bilstein front and rear performance suspension, quad exhaust, performance tires and a sporty front fascia. Base price is $28,195.

All models come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission, with the 6-speed automatic costing an additional $1,395.

As soon as I started posting photos of the 124 Spider in social media, the questions poured in about which I preferred, what would I spend my money on?

For those of you who want a black-and-white answer, you're about to be disappointed.

It's kind of like why I wear both a Garmin and a FitBit fitness tracker. Other than being a little obsessive, I like them both for different things.

The MX-5 in my book is the hands-down exterior design winner. If you read my CX-9 review, you probably get that I love the "KODO - Soul of Motion" design philosophy. For me, Mazda just has some of the sexiest cars on the market right now.

But if you read my MX-5 review, you'll know I was a bit disappointed by the power downgrade with the all-new model. It was noticeable, and made the MX-5 just a little less fun to drive.

The 124 Spider solves that problem with a turbocharged engine that offers a little more horsepower and a lot more torque. You have a better connection to the road as well as more power. So, yeah, it's more fun to drive.

And don't get me wrong, I don't find the 124 Spider unattractive. I think the designers did a great job creating a car that falls in line with the family brand. And it also does a decent job of recalling the 124 of yore.

So, which one would I buy? Hmmm. I might have to go with the 124 Spider Abarth. I like the more aggressive styling, the easy-shifting 6-speed manual and the sound of the engine. Now, if Mazda ever decides to come out with a Mazdaspeed version of the MX-5, we may have to revisit.

During the press preview, we couldn't get an exact on-sale date from the folks at Fiat. But the 124 Spider Classica and Lusso models are slated to hit dealers sometime this summer, with the Abarth following sometime in Q3.

I can't wait to start seeing them on the streets!

Until then: Ciao bella!


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